130301_0008Frankie is officially a service dog.

I realize that’s laughable to those of you who really know him, but nevertheless, he is a service dog. And before you ask — no, he doesn’t do anything for me. He doesn’t pick up dropped items (unless it’s food and that’s to eat it). He can’t open any doors. And on public transportation, he’s more likely to climb over me trying to stick his head out the window than sit quietly beside me. If I fell out of the wheelchair, he’d probably look at me like “Now what?” instead of getting help. The idea of having a service dog that doesn’t actually provide a service used to bother me. Until now.

Several weeks ago, some friends and I attended the ceremony of what is, in essence, a service dog school. We watched the “puppies” (usually a year and a half old) matriculate into the training program and fully trained dogs graduate out. These dogs were the real deal. Imagine having close to 50 dogs in one building with no barking. Granted, they all looked alike (black or golden, labs or retrievers). And you wouldn’t want to try to pick these pups out of a police line up. But then, you wouldn’t have to. These were well-behaved dogs.

At the Ceremony
At the Ceremony

At first, I watched sheepishly, imagining my own “service dog” going ballistic in the place, barking at other dogs and jumping up on people. These dogs seemed to have nothing in common with Frankie. They were all distant (very distant) relatives. But as I watched a video presentation, I realized most of the receipients of these “real service dogs” didn’t have tasks on the top of their lists either. Most of these (mainly) special needs children just wanted a friend. And the parents of these children wanted to help them socialize with other children. To help them not feel so alone.

Dogs can do that.

I was fortunate enough to have an able-bodied childhood. To not meet with disability until I was well into my thirties. But even so, I can relate. I can relate to being the odd man out, to stares, or even worse, avoidance. And that’s just in the adult world! Children can be so much worse. Even I was scared of them, gunning my power chair past their school bus stop near my house. Until, I went by with Frankie.

Dogs are the great equalizers. The kids were so busy petting Frankie and asking questions, they didn’t seem to notice I was in a wheelchair. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have been approached by half the neighbors I know, without him by my side. Plus, I know I wouldn’t be getting out as much.

So, I recognize there’s a huge value in companionship. Of service dogs that don’t complete tasks. And of little guys like Frankie. But, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that every woman with a toy poodle in her purse run out and get a doctor’s note to take Fido (or Fifi) everywhere. Though Frankie can accompany me most places, I’m only planning on taking him to the pier. He’ll be the one in the blue vest, barking at the birds.